If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one complete run of a pulp magazine to help you while away the hours, which one would it be? For those of you who are anal retentive, assume that food, water, and shelter are not an issue.
Oh, and you’re alone. I don’t want to know what type of harem you would have on a desert island. That’s a different blog post on a different blog written by a different blogger. The thought of what some of you people might come up with on that one frankly scares me.
For the purposes of this thought experiment, any pulp that survived after the early 1950s (I’m thinking Astounding here) when the pulp market collapsed can only be included up through 1953. Any magazine that started in the 1950s (F&SF, Galaxy, etc.) is outside the bounds of consideration. Here are my top ten choices:
Weird Tales. Duh. This one is a no-brainer. In addition to Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith, there were a huge number of excellent authors. C. L. Moore. Seabury Quinn. Henry S. Whitehead. Nictzin Dyhalis. Henry Kuttner. Frank Belknap Long. Ray Bradbury. Edmond Hamilton. Jack Williamson. Robert Bloch. Every pulp published a certain amount of crap, but some of the best American fantastic literature came out of Weird Tales. It’s pretty much my top choice any time a discussion involving pulp rankings comes up.
Adventure. This would have to be my second choice. Harold Lamb. Rafael Sabatini. H. Beford-Jones. Talbot Mundy. The quality was consistently high. It was the top historical fiction pulp. No periodical since then (IMO) has even come close to matching it. Adventure had a huge influence on Robert E. Howard, and having read some of the authors it published, it’s easy to understand why.
Those are my top two. Everything that follows is subject to change in order of preference depending on my mood, what I happen to be reading at any given time, or the phase of the Moon. Therefore the remaining items will be listed alphabetically. I’ve read many of the stories published in the titles that follow, although there are a couple of them I’ve heard about but have read little or none of. They’re on the list because I’d like to read them at some point.
Astounding. Call me a dinosaur, but I still think the first decade of Campbell’s editorship of Astounding is one of the high water marks of science fiction. A. E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber. Jack Williamson. Fredric Brown. L. Sprague de Camp. So many authors who went on to become giants in the field of science fiction did some of their most important work in Astounding. There was some good science fiction published in the magazine before Campbell took over that is also still readable, but Campbell’s influence has eclipsed much of that work.
Black Mask. This one almost made the number three spot permanently. I mean Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain alone made such an impact on American letters that all the contributions of all the other authors have been eclipses. Carroll John Daly, Raoul Whitfield, Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel. Need I say more?
Dime Detective. After the glory days of the 1930s, Black Mask went into something of a decline. Hammett had quit writing and Chandler moved on to write novels and screenplays. Dime Detective managed to lure many of the top detective and crime authors away from Black Mask. It was arguably the top detective pulp of the 1940s.
Jungle Stories. This is the only pulp on the list that I’ve never read, nor have I read anything from it in any anthology (as far as I know). Ki-Gor is generally regarded to be the best Tarzan imitator, and some would say the only one worth reading. I know Howard Andrew Jones has a high regard for this pulp, which automatically puts it on my radar. And it had some fantastic covers. What can I say? I’m a sucker for leopard skin bikinis.
Planet Stories. Leigh Brackett. ‘Nuff said.
Strange Tales. A minor league Weird Tales, this pulp published many of the same authors. This is one I’ve only read a little of but would like to read more.
Thrilling Wonder. This pulp was arguably one of the best science fiction pulps of the late 1940s. It tended to have a great deal of lighter, more humorous fiction than Astounding. Plus, a lot of the stories that went into Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles were published here.
Uknown/Uknown Worlds. This is probably the only pulp that gave Weird Tales any real competition, and even that is arguable. Edited by John Campbell, a number of now classic stories by Fritz Leiber, Lester Del Rey, Alfred Bester, L. Ron Hubbard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Henry Kuttner appeared here. The tone was lighter and the fare snarkier than what WT was publishing. Unfortunately, paper shortages in WWII killed this pulp, and it was never revived after the war.
Honorable Mentions: Doc Savage and The Shadow. I’ve never read either of these, although I am familiar with the characters, at least to some degree. I’ve listened to quite a few of The Shadow radio programs. The Hero Pulps are an area of the pulps I’ve read a little about but haven’t tried to collect. I’m not exactly made of money, and they don’t come cheap. Fortunately there are some inexpensive reprints available, and I intend to one day read a few.
So, those are my top ten pulps I’d want if I were stranded on a desert island. Which pulps would you choose? Respond in the comments. Go.